A kilo of muscle weighs the same as a kilo of fat, or a kilo of feathers for that matter. In spite of what you might hear bandied about the place, muscle does not weigh more than fat.
What people actually mean when they say “muscle weighs more than fat” could be that muscle is more dense than fat, and therefore, a kilo of muscle takes up less room than a kilo of fat (think feathers compared to steel – a kg of feathers will take up much more room than a kilo of steel).
Losing fat and gaining muscle
Many weight loss articles, fitness trainers, and the like will advise you not to look at the scales too much if you are wanting to lose weight. Instead you should focus on how your feel generally. Whether you have more energy, do your clothes fit better, and I agree, these are great measures of whether or not an exercise program is effective.
However, if your goal is to lose weight, then you need to know how much you weigh, otherwise you’ll never know if you’ve reached your goal.
Part or the reasoning behind the “no scale policy” is that “muscle weighs more than fat” or more correctly, muscle takes up less room than fat. The theory goes, as you lose fat through exercise and portion control, and gain muscle through strength training, you could actually put on weight, because, well-muscle weighs more than fat, right?
Here’s the thing. You have to be doing an awful lot of heavy weight training to put on much muscle bulk, particularly if you are female. If you are new to weight training, and you really work out hard in the weights room (I’m talking lifting low repetition, heavy weight – anywhere between 1 and 6 reps being the maximum you could knock out for a given weight) and you keep that up, consistently, a minimum of 3 times per week for a year, with the appropriate variations and progressions in your lifting program, you might, just might, put on 12kgs of muscle.
That’s the equivalent of about 1 kg of muscle gain per month. A healthy weight loss schedule is considered to be half a kg per week, roughly 2 kg per month. So, whilst it might be comforting to think that the reason you’re not losing weight is because you’re laying down so much muscle, the truth is probably that you’re not losing as much body fat as you think.
Even if you are lifting like Atlas, and laying down a kilo of dense muscle per month, if your weight stays the same, it means either you’re not losing more than 1kg of body fat per month, or you are retaining a lot of fluid.
If you don’t have a lot of body fat to lose, say under 10kg, you might be perfectly happy with losing a kg of body fat per month, and putting on a kg of muscle per month – keeping your weight at the same level. As muscle is denser than fat, that is, it doesn’t take up as much room as fat, you will most likely look and feel slimmer, and your clothes will fit better. Happy days.
But, if you know you’ve been overdoing it on the eating front for quite a while, and you’re 10kg + heavier than you were back in the day, be sure you understand that you will actually need to see the numbers on the scale go down, to lose that body fat. All that body fat is not going to “turn into muscle”.
Did you know…
A great way to lose body fat is to run? Well, that is if you want to run for about an hour a day, every day of the week. That’ll see you lose your half a kg per week. I never recommend exercise alone for weight loss. It really is at least 80% about what you eat. Exercising is awesome however, for improving your mental well being, which is so important in getting your head around reigning in poor eating habits.
To lose body fat, you’ll need to do more aerobic exercise (the sort that makes you puff a bit) some intense training – the sort that makes you huff and puff a lot, some resistance training – using your own body weight or resistance bands, free weights or machines (my least favourite option). And you’ll need to take in fewer calories. So, nothing different to what you already know really.
I love running in hot weather, but I have to admit, the last couple of days here in Sydney have taken me somewhat by surprise. If you’re not used to running in hot weather, it can certainly take a lot out of you. One session in the heat the other day was particularly tough – I was trying to maintain a pace based on a cooler weather time trial!! I just didn’t realise how ill prepared my body was for the heat.
Spring time in Sydney can pose a few problems for adapting to hot weather. It’s not unusual to have 10-15 degree (C) fluctuations in temperatures from one day to the next. The temperature for the Sydney Marathon, run in September, has ranged from 20-33 degrees in the last few years. And the problem with getting 30+ degree days in spring, is that we haven’t had time to acclimatise ourselves to the hot weather.
Why It’s Harder to Run in Hot Weather
Our normal core temperature is around 37.9 degrees. This varies slightly between individuals, with the time of day, and the stage of the menstrual cycle. Your core temperature also increases when you are pregnant (you have that living internal heater inside you!).
Once the body’s core temperature reaches about 38.9 degrees C, your performance, both in training and in racing, will begin to decline quite rapidly. The central govenor theory, explains why this happens.
Briefly, once your core temperature reaches 38.9 C, your body can’t cool itself properly. Blood starts to be diverted to the skin to help it keep cool, which of course, decreases the amount of blood going to the working muscles – you only have so much blood to go around! Less blood to the muscles means less oxygen to the muscles, which results in a rapid decline in performance. Take your core temperature up another degree or so, and your brain is also triggered to inhibit the recruitment of muscle fibres, to stop you from doing yourself damage, so whilst it feels like you’re working harder, you actually are not working harder. Fewer muscle fibres are actually firing.
You Feel the Effects of Heat More as You Get Older
Heat can have a much bigger effect on you once you hit 40. A study of 85 cyclists aged 20-70 showed that the older subjects in the study sweated less than the younger once. The diminished heat loss through sweat was greater in the older age groups, leveling out at the 40 -44 years age group. The researchers found that
“aging may have a larger influence on whole-body heat loss capacity than the fitness level or specific physical characteristics of the individual.”
The research found the difference between the age groups become more pronounced, the longer the exercise bout.
Acclimatising to the Heat
5 days of exercising in hot conditions will be enough time to see some dramatic improvements in your body’s main cooling mechanism – sweating. The acclimatisation continues for upwards of two weeks.
If you live in a climate where the temperatures are pretty steady for weeks at a time, then you’re sweet, but if your temperatures fluctuate considerably, and race day is forecast to be a hot one, you can acclimatise by running in more layers of clothing for a few weeks prior to the race, or running inside and turning up the heat. You could also run in the middle of the day when the temperature is hottest, if possible.
Adjust your training and racing pace
Roughly, for every 5.5 C increase in environmental temperature, you can expect to slow down by about 6-10 seconds per km, depending on your age, and how well your body’s cooling mechanisms work. Take this into account when setting goal race times, and training paces.
For example, if you’re scheduled to run 10*500’s at 5km race pace, and your 5km pace is around 5 mins/km, in cool conditions, your 500m repeats would be done in 2 min 30. If you’re running in 30 degree heat, and you are not used to it, you should be aiming to cover the 500m in 2 min 40 – that allows for you to be slowing down by 20 seconds per km. If you don’t adjust your times at the start, you’re likely not to be able to complete the full session. Everyone reacts to hot conditions differently, and you may find you don’t need to slow down that much, or perhaps more, so use this as a guide, monitor how you feel, and adjust accordingly.
Choose your goal races around the temperature
If you’re keen on a marathon or half marathon, choose a race in a location and/or time of year when it is likely to be cool – around 15-18 degrees is ideal. If you’re a 40+ runner (that being age, not 10km pace), this becomes even more important, as you’re body’s cooling mechanisms become less effective, the longer the race. So if you’re over 40 and want to choose your optimum race, all other things being equal, a 5k or perhaps 10k race in late Autumn or early Winter would be ideal.
Not to say you shouldn’t race in the summer, it’s just that you’re more likely to perform better in the cooler months. Shorter races and off road races where you might find some shade, are both a good choice for summer running.
Pre-cool Before You Exercise
The cooler you are before you start exercising in the heat, the longer it takes for your body to reach a temperature where it will start to slow down. So, if you want to perform as well as you can when you are running in hot weather, it makes sense to cool yourself off before you start.
Your attention to recovery is just as important in summer as it is at any time of the year. But, despite the word “summer” invoking visions of lazy days spent in a hammock by the beach, perhaps sipping a gin and tonic, summer is a crazy time in the southern hemisphere. The end of the school year and school concerts add an extra level of organisation to the household, at work everyone insists on setting pre-Christmas deadlines, (though you know there’s little chance of that report being read before the end of January) and Christmas itself can take take stress to a whole new level!
We tend to get less sleep in summer. There’s more happening, more partying, and it can be difficult to get to sleep on some of those stinking hot summer nights. If you’re a runner, you want to get out running early, before it gets too hot, and even if you don’t plan to run in the morning, the cockatoos screeching outside your window will squash any plans for a sleep in! (Thank you very much bird lady who feeds the native birds in the park next door- NOT)
It’s not only lack of sleep that will effect your recovery when you’re running in hot weather. Your body will be working harder to keep itself at the right temperature. You’ll be diverting blood to the skin to keep cool, which means your muscles don’t get quite as much oxygen and nutrient rich blood. This might not have a dramatic effect on your recovery, but it will possibly contribute to an overall feeling of sluggishness.
For someone like me, the upside of all this is simply that it’s summer! Some people come alive in summer, and I’m one of them. I love hot nights, I love a 6 am temperature of 25 degrees, I love the buzz of blowflies (though not when they buzz into my mouth), I love the cooling breeze of running at the beach. I love the sweat, I love the extra effort, I even love those bloody cockatoos!
The mental freshness I feel in summer far outweighs the physiological downside, but if you’re not a summer person, here’s a summary of recommendations for coping with running in hot weather.
If you have a race planned for a day which could be unseasonally hot or you’re race is in a hotter climate, acclimatise your body to the heat by training in an extra layer or two of clothing, or running in the hottest part of the day
Remember to adjust your paces for the heat, especially if you are in the over 40 category
Don’t aim for a personal best in the summer months. It’s unlikely to happen
Give yourself an extra rest day every now and again.
Run in the coolest part of the day
Try to run along shady routes, or by the beach where you’ll catch a sea breeze
Larose J, Boulay P, Sigal RJ, Wright HE, Kenny GP (2013) Age-Related Decrements in Heat Dissipation during Physical Activity Occur as Early as the Age of 40. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83148. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083148
I was absent-mindedly watching someone buying a couple of bottles of Powerade at the Little Athletic’s canteen on the weekend, and watched her hand over $10 for the two drinks – with not much change coming back to her. It seemed a lot to pay for two bottles of lolly water.
Back in the day, when you were thirsty, you found a bubbler or a tap, and drank from it, but today apparently, our kids do so much more sustained and vigorous exercise, that they need to replenish their fluids, electrolytes and glycogen to prep them for their next big sustained exercise bout!
Your kids do need a sports drink…if they “train hard and push their body to the limits” (1) and if they participate in “sustained, strenuous exercise” (2). And in my experience, very few children fall into that category (and I live in a whole street full of very active kids!)
What’s in a sports drink
Generally speaking, sports drinks contain electrolytes and carbohydrates, though there are some which contain electrolytes and practically no carbohydrates and subsequently almost no calories. Powerade Zero is one such drink. Some contain just two electrolytes – sodium and potassium (eg Gatorade G Series Thirst Quencher), and some contain calcium and magnesium and as well as sodium and potassium (eg Powerade Ion 4).
What are Electrolytes
They are positively or negatively charged ions that conduct electrical activity. We humans need electrolytes present in the right concentrations to maintain fluid balance in the body, for muscle contraction and relaxation, and nerve activity. The kidneys play a big role in maintaining electrolyte balance, by conserving or excreting electrolytes.
Water is drawn to areas in the body where electrolytes (particularly sodium and chloride) are most concentrated, so they play a large role in maintaining the equilibrium of water throughout the body.
The electrolytes sodium and chloride can be lost in high concentrations in sweat, whilst potassium, magnesium and calcium are lost in smaller amounts.
So, does your kid need sports drink?
It’s generally agreed amongst researchers that sports drinks can aid in hydration and the replenishment of carbohydrate and salts lost through bouts of moderate to high level exercise lasting over 60 minutes, where the participant has lost a large amount of sweat and electrolytes.
Just how much sweat someone loses, and how much of each electrolyte is excreted with the sweat, is a very individual thing. This varies not only across individuals, but can vary for the individual from exercise bout to exercise bout. Many factors come into play, including the weather, the intensity and duration of activity, and the level of hydration before exercising. So in the real world, fluid and electrolyte replacement is not an exact science (in spite of what the sports drinks manufacturers may have you believe).
Children (and adults) rarely need sports drinks. Unless you’ve been exercising continuously for at least 60 mins, there’s really no need for you to have a sports drink to replace glucose or salts. Often adults are fine for up to 90 minutes of sustained moderate to vigorous exercise without needing to replace glycogen or electrolytes. With children, you could start looking at a sports drink at the hour mark. But, let’s face it, most kids don’t exercise vigorously for an hour or so non-stop, and they tend not to sweat in the same way adults do. It’s common to see kids a bit sweaty, but not at all common to see them come off the playing field dripping with sweat.
For kids, usually a piece of fruit and a swig of water will do just as nicely to quench their thirst and replenish lost sugars. If they’ve been running round a lot, and they’ve been particularly sweaty, you can throw in a handful of salted cashews to help retain the water, replenish electrolytes, and utilise the carbohydrate from the fruit more quickly.
For the most part, your kids don’t need to replenish electrolytes in a hurry by guzzling sports drinks. What electrolytes they’ve lost whilst playing sport will be replaced over a day of healthy eating.
Are there any situations when sports drinks are good for kids?
Sure. If your child is attending a sports tournament, when they are playing many games of a vigorous sport such as any of the football codes, hockey, netball, basketball, then electrolyte replacement drinks could be a good option for rehydration and energy replenishment, particularly if they do not get enough rest in between games to take on more substantial nutrition.
If your child sweats A LOT, and their sweat is particularly salty – as evidenced by salt marks on their clothing for example, you may need to consider a sports drink for them, on those occasions when they do need to rehydrate quickly, but for the most part, kids should understand that sports drinks are a treat, just like lemonade is.
For the record, a 600ml bottle of Gatorade holds 140 calories, about 7% of the daily energy needs of a 9-13 year old boy!
If your kids are anything like mine, they are starving when they come home from school, and want to grab the first thing they can lay their hands on that looks vaguely like food.
Pikelets are awesome for afternoon tea. You can whip them up at the last minute, and give your kids a wholesome snack.
Here are a few hints for making extra healthy pikelets.
Use wholemeal self raising flour instead of white flour. It takes longer to digest than white flour, it’s lower on the Glycemic Index (meaning it doesn’t spike their blood sugars as much as white flour), and it will keep them feeling full for longer
Add nut meal to the flour. I usually have almond meal or hazelnut meal on hand in the fridge (keeping it cold helps to stop the fats in the meal from going rancid). About a 60/40 flour to nut meal mix seems to keep the consistency fairly easy to handle-the more nutmeal, the heavier the pikelet will be, and it gets a bit tricky to flip sometimes.
Use yoghurt instead of milk. Add a pinch of carb soda. The yoghurt reacts with the carb soda, just as buttermilk would, making for a nice thick pikelet. Of course, if you happen to have buttermilk in the fridge when, at the last minute, you decide to make pikelets for arvo tea, go ahead and use it. If you use youghurt, you will probably need to add a small amount of milk to get a smooth batter.
Remember to add an egg!
Mash a banana and add it to the batter. The sweetness in the banana means you won’t need to add sugar to the batter, nor anything sweet on top once they pikelets are cooked. [If your kids aren’t used to eating sugar free, you may need to add sugar to the batter, and gradually reduce the amount of sugar you add with each batch. They’ll soon get used to it.]